22 June 2012

10 Ways to Narrow Your Career Focus and Major

Conduct career research to guide college endeavors

Most college students will change their major at least once, if not more often. This isn't bad if it's the first week of school, but if a student changes his or her career course three years into college, they're going to suffer setbacks in several forms by having to pay for extra courses to fulfill the requirements of a new degree. The unfortunate truth for many college entrants is that they begin their post-secondary education without any idea of what they want to specialize in. 

In many cases, these students could have saved themselves time, money and stress by doing research early on in their professional pursuits - even while they were still in high school.

Taking your career into your own hands

When refining one's interests and targeting specific fields of interest, one of the worst things a high school or college student can do is place their future in the hands of a school guidance counselor. Considering the average of 457 to 1 counselor-to-student ratio is nearly twice the recommended ratio according to the American School Counselor Association, it is unrealistic to expect high performance by counselors under such conditions. Counselors are often tasked with a number of wide-ranging responsibilities not related to career
counseling. Counselors are often trained to provide interventions and one-on-one counseling to students, but unfortunately, the constraints just detailed prevent them from providing comprehensive, effective guidance and advocacy for every student’s college planning. Discussing future prospects with a school counselor can still be beneficial, but if students and parents want to maximize their benefit, they need to be proactive.

In addition to resources like the College Readiness Indicator System, which is designed to support school counseling efforts by using data analysis to determine how ready for college a high school student is, parents and students alike need to actively conduct research and explore their options. Going on school visits, meeting with prospective college advisors, and doing other legwork can provide much more "guidance" than a school counselor has the time to offer.

Do some research to narrow down options

That doesn't mean anyone has to map out the rest of his or her life at age 17. But narrowing down interests ahead of college can help a person focus general education in a way that best serves the most likely career paths. For example, if a student is interested in math and science fields, taking prerequisites and general education courses that work toward a Master of Science degree can make things easier once that specific degree path is determined.

Some career paths can be more complicated than others. The engineering field, for example, features a range of degrees and specialties that often appear similar on the surface but can be widely divergent from one another when the details are examined. Many students eventually entering into a construction management degree program settle on this career path after exploring their options in the field of engineering and construction.

Free resources

Because most college students want to prepare themselves for a profession likely to exist throughout the course of their working years, job outlook is a key consideration when narrowing a career search.
The Federal Bureau of Labor Statistics is a great resource for learning more about any profession a student might consider. From taxi drivers to government officials, a number of resources provide information spanning several aspects of each job, including the average pay, working conditions, education requirements, additional training, and -- most importantly -- the job outlook for that profession.

Construction management, mentioned above, is projected by the Bureau of Labor Statistics to enjoy an average job growth of 17 percent between 2010 and 2020, a figure slightly above the national average for all jobs. That means students earning a construction management degree may experience average or slightly above-average job opportunities over the next decade.

In addition to job research, other methods of personal discovery are available, including job shadowing of construction management personnel to aptitude tests that gauge a student's interests and skills and suggest fields that may be a good fit for them.

Putting the journey ahead of the destination

Of course, there's a reason colleges force students to sample courses from a variety of professional paths and interests. It can be hard for students to know what they want to do when they don't know all the options available to them. The ultimate goal for both students shouldn't be choosing a career path as early as possible. Instead, early active exploration and research should be the emphasis. With those goals in mind - and a little patience backing those efforts - the career will come in time.

Guest Post by Joe Baker 
You can reach him at josephbker@gmail.com 


Emma | iHELP Student Loans said...

Loved this list. Narrowing down is so hard to do, but so important. Thank you!